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Savory herb bread of Mardi Gras brings New Orleans to you

Question: I would love to have the recipe for the signature herb bread that is served as a starter at The Pelican Club in New Orleans.

- Sydney Langley, Austin, Texas

Answer: The New Orleans French Quarter annually "battens down its hatches" in February as the city prepares for Mardi Gras, the carnival of excess and public spectacle of debauchery that holds the Crescent City hostage every year. The anonymity of masked revelry releases the inhibitions of even the most conservative individuals, and exhibitionists have a fine time.

The acceptable mayhem that is Mardi Gras had its birth in 1827, when a group of students, home from their studies in Paris, donned costumes and danced their way through the streets during a night of revelry that imitated the celebrations they had experienced in Paris.

Their enthusiasm was contagious. The celebration grew, and the Mardi Gras Ball became an annual event. By 1839, participants in the carnival were ready to stage a parade, and even though the parade consisted of only a single float, the crowd adored the idea.

Many people outside of New Orleans believe that the New Orleans Mardi Gras is a celebration during the few days just before Ash Wednesday. In fact, the New Orleans Mardi Gras is similar to the Fasching of Germany, which begins on the 12th night after Christmas and continues until Shrove Tuesday. The French expression, Mardi Gras, means "Fat Tuesday."

With its stone walls, antique Italian tile floors and grand piano, The Pelican Club, tucked in the French Quarter on Exchange Place, embodies the warmth and intimacy of old New Orleans. After being seated in one of three dining rooms on the ground floor of the 19th-century townhouse, diners are greeted with a "starter" basket of the savory Italian flatbread known as focaccia. If overhead the attic seems to creak and moan a bit, the waiters are quick to let you know the townhouse ghost is walking through the vacant space.

PELICAN CLUB FOCACCIA

4 to 5 cups all-purpose white flour

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons salt

1 1/2 tablespoons roasted garlic, minced

2 cups warm water

1 teaspoon yeast

1/16 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/8 cup chopped onions

1/8 cup rosemary

1/16 cup chopped parsley

1/8 cup Parmesan cheese

Combine flour, sugar, salt and garlic in large bowl of mixer. Set aside. Place warm water in small mixing bowl. Add yeast and stir to dissolve yeast. Add to flour mixture and mix at low speed with dough hook until mixture pulls away from the sides of the bowl and forms a ball (dough can also be hand kneaded). Spread olive oil over the bottom of a 9-bt-18-inch pan. Stretch dough to spread out over the bottom of the pan, set pan in a warm, draft-free place, cover with a cloth, and let rise 1 hour or until dough doubles in size. Sprinkle onions and rosemary on top of dough and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven 1 hour or until golden brown. Cool. Sprinkle with parsley and Parmesan cheese. Cut or tear into pieces and serve. Yields 15 to 20 pieces.